po·e·sy n. pl. po·e·sies 1. Poetical works; poetry. 2. The art or practice of composing poems. 3. The inspiration involved in composing poetry. [Middle English poesie, from Old French, from Latin posis, from Greek poisis, from poiein, to create; see kwei-2 in Indo-European roots.]

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Friday, October 30, 2009

Oct 30th - André Marie Chénier

André Marie Chénier (October 30 1762 – July 25 1794)

Chénier lived during the turbulent era of the French Revolution. A political moderate, he supported the Revolution until he realized that moderation, justice, and freedom from tyranny were unattainable ideals in the lawless society it spawned. A believer in a constitutional monarchy, as the revolution progressed he wrote many savage satirical works against the uprising for pamphlets and journals of the time. He later provided some arguments for the defense of Louis XVI, who was nevertheless guillotined in early 1793.

Poems in French, followed by English translations:

A number of the king's mercenary Swiss Guard revolted and murdered their officers. The murderers were captured, some killed, some incarcerated, and later released, returning to the city where they were, for political reasons, treated as heroes. Hymne aux Suisses de Chateauvieux, a masterpiece of irony, reflects Chénier's rage at this injustice and hypocrisy.

Hymne aux Suisses de Chateauvieux
by Andre Marie de Chenier

Salut, divin Triomphe! entre dans nos murailles!
Rends-nous ces guerriers illustrés
Par le sang de Désille, et par les fun
De tant de Français massacrés.
Jamais rien de si grand n'embellit ton entrée,
Ni quand l'ombre de Mirabeau
S'achemina jadis vers la voûte sacrée
Où la gloire donne un tombeau,
Ni quand Voltaire mort, et sa centre bannie
Rentrèrent aux murs de Paris.
Vainqueurs du fanatisme et de la calomnie,
Posternés devant ses écrits.

De voir des échevins, que la Rapée honore,
Asseoir sur un char radieux
Ces héros, que jadis sur les bancs des galères
Assit un arrêt outrageant,
Et qui n'ont égorgé que très peu de nos frères,
Et volé que très peu d'argent.

Que la Nuit de leurs noms embelisse se voiles,
Et que le nocher aux abois
Invoque en leur Galère, ornement des étoiles,
Les Suisses de Collt-d'Herbois.


Hail, divine Triumph! enter into our walls!
Welcome back those warrious honored
For the blood shed of Désille and the funerals
Of so many Frenchmen massacred.
Never before your gates saw anything so fine.
Not even when the shade of Mirabeau
Of yore was carried to the sacred shrine.
A tomb that only glory can bestow.
Nor when Voltaire's ashes, refused a calm retreat,
To Paris came back for repose.
And fanaticism and calumny in full defeat.
Prostrate lay before his prose.

Place on a radiant chariot
These heroes, who previously on a galley bench
Were put by an outrageous sentence,
And who strangled but very few of our brothers
And stole but little gold from others.

Let Night emboss their names in its veil,
And the Pilot, when he goes amiss,
Invoke in their Galley, as the stars they trail,
Collot-d'Herbois' glorious Swiss.


Ode to Marie-Anne-Charlotte Corday, the young woman guillotined for assassinating Jacobin leader Jean-Paul Marat, one of the architects of the Reign of Terror, lambastes Marat and his cohorts, praises Corday, and regrets the impotence of those who stood by.

Ode to Marie-Anne-Charlotte Corday
by Andre Marie de Chenier

Le noir serpent, sorti de sa caverne impure,
A donc vu rompre enfin sous ta main ferme et sûre
le venimeux tissu de ses jours abhorrés!
Aux entrailles du tigre, à ses dents homicides,
Tu vins demander et les membres livides
Et le sang des humains qu'il avait dévorés!

La vertu seule est libre. Honneur de notre histoire,
Notre immortel opprobre y vit avec ta gloire.
Seule tu fus un homme, et vengea les humains.
Et nous, eunuques vils, troupeau lâche et sans âme,
Nous savons répéter quelques plaintes de femme,
Mais le fer pèserait à nos débiles mains.
. . . . .
Un scélérat de moins rampe dans cette fange.
La Vertu t'applaudit. De sa mâle louange
Entends, bell héroïne, entends l'auguste voix.
O Vertu, le poignard, seul espoir de la terre,
Est ton arme sacrée, alors que le tonnerre
Laisse régner le crime, et te vend à ses lois.


The black serpent, leaving his filthy cave,
Has finally suffered by your hand so sure and brave
The end of its venomous existence so despised!
From the tiger's guts, from his homicidal teeth
You came and drew what he'd devoured from beneath:
The blood and livid members of his victims sacrificed.

Virtue alone is free. Honor of our history,
Our immortal shame we live beside your glory.
Only you were a man, your knife did vengeance wreak;
And we, vile eunuchs, cowardly and soul-less cattle.
We can at best complain like women prattle,
But to wield a sword our hands would be too weak
. . . . .
In that mud crawls one scoundrel less.
Hear, lovely heroine, hear Virtue bless,
Hear the august voice of its virile praise.
Oh virtue, the dagger that hope will raise,
Is your sacred arm, when Heaven holds its thunder
And lets crime rule, while laws are cut asunder.


Arrested and tried for alleged crimes against the state Chénier died by guillotine on July 25, 1794, just days before the end of the Reign of Terror. He was 31 years old.

His fragmented works were first collected and published in 1819, and as many additional poems and fragments were discovered, the complete works of the poet were published in 1892.

He wrote in prison until his last day, lashing out against injustice and the atrocious acts of man.

Iambe V

Ils vivent cependant et de tant de victimes
Les cris ne montent point vers toi.
C'est un pauvre poète, ô grand Dieu des armées,
Que seul, captif, près de la mort,
Attachant à ses vers des ailes enflammées
De ton tonnerre qui s'endort,
De la vertu proscrite embrassant la défense,
Dé'nonce aux juges infernaux
Ces juges, ces jurés qui frappent l'innocence,
Hécatombe à leurs tribunaux.
Eh bien, fais-moi donc vivre, et cette horde impure
Sentira quels traits sont les miens.
Ils ne sont point cachés dans leur bassess impure;
Je le vois, j'accours, je les tiens.


Yet they live and their victims' throttled cries
Do not rise up to your exalted heights.
It is a poor poet, oh majestic god of the armies,
Who, alone, in prison, as death he fights,
Gluing to his verses the flaming wings
Of your thunder that no longer stings,
Of virtue exiled taking the defense,
Denounces to the judges of all hells
Those judges, those juries that strike innocence,
Creating a hecatomb at their tribunals.
Just let me stay alive, and that filthy breed
Will feel the power of my pen.
They cannot hide behind their dirty deed:
I see them, I rush in, I have them.

Iambe VII

Quand au mouton bêlant la sombre boucherie
Ouvre ses cavernes de mort,
Pâtres, cheins et moutons, toute la bergerie
Ne s'informe plus son sort...


When the somber slaughterhouse lets the bleating sheep
Into its dark and deadly gate,
Shepherds, dogs, and sheep, all of them keep
Their thoughts on any but their fate...


Iambe VIII

...Quelle sera la proie
Que la hache appelle aujourd'hui?
Chacun frissonne, écoute; et chacun avec joie
Voit que ce n'est pas encor lui:
Ce sera toi demain, insensible imbécile.


...Who will be the prey
On whom the ax will fall today?
Everybody shivers, listens, and is relieved to see
That the one called out is not yet he.
It will be you tomorrow, unfeeling fool.


Iambe IX (his last)

Comme un dernier rayon, comme un dernier zéphyre
Animent la fin d'un beau jour,
Au pied de l'échaufaud j'essaye encor ma lyre.
Peut-être est-ce bientôt mon tour.
. . . . .
Ma vie importe à la vertu.
Car l'honnête homme enfin, victime de l'outrage,
Dans les cachots, près du cercueil,
Relève plus altier son front et son langage.

Sauvez-moi. Conservez un bras
Qui lance votre foudre, un amant qui vous venge.
. . . . .
O ma plume! fiel, bile, horreur, Dieu de ma vie!
Par vous seuls je respire encor:
. . . . .
Nul ne resterait donc pour attendrir l'histoire
Sur tant de justes massacrés?
Pour consoler leurs fils, leurs veuves, leur mémoire,
Pour que des brigands abhorrés
Frémissent aux portraits noirs de leur ressemblance,
Pour descendre jusqu'aux enfers
Nouer le triple fouet, le fouet de la vengeance
Déjà levé sur ces pervers?
Pour cracher sur leurs noms, pour chanter leur supplice?
Allons, étouffe tes clameurs;
Souffre, ô coeur gros de haine, affamé de justice.
Toi, Vertu, pleure si je meurs.


Like a last ray of light, like a last summer breeze
Color the end of a beautiful day,
At the foot of the gallows once more my lyre I seize.
Perhaps I'll soon be on my way.
. . . . .
My life is Virtue's concern.
A decent man, whom outrage has fed,
In prison, awaiting his turn,
Lifts higher his speech and higher his head.

Save me. Preserve an arm
To hurl your thunderbolts, a lover to avenge you.
. . . . .
Oh my pen! poison, gall, horror, God of my life,
Through you alone I carry on my strife.
. . . . .
No one would remain and move history to record
About so many just people massacred?
To console their memory, their widows, their sons,
So that abhorrent highway brigands
Will tremble at their black portraits in paint?
To descend into hell, like a saint,
To tie the trifold whip, by vengeance praised,
Already on those perverts raised?
To spit on their names, to see their sentence carved?
Come now, stifle your cry;
Suffer, heart full of hate, for justice starved.
And you, Virtue, weep if I die.